Writing basics

What Is A Trope? What, Why and How?


If you’re doing a lot of Googling about writing (and you should) and if you’re talking to people (or listening to people) about writing (again, you should), you might have heard of the term, ‘trope.’

When I first read the term the stared at it blankly before furiously reading on to try and put it into context.

So let me explain to you what it is, so you don’t have to smile and nod, and Google furiously, like I did.

What is a trope?

A trope is a theme that occurs regularly and repeatedly.

And every genre has its own tropes.

Why do you need to know this?

Sometimes, when a theme hits the market right, you’ll see books about them everywhere. Vampires are possibly the most famous example. Twilight is released, young adults go nuts for it and soon all the YA fantasy publishers want vampire books. Sure enough, soon the market is swamped with vampire stories. Shortly after, publications and agents are saying no more! No more vampires! Please!
Everyone’s sick of them.

So, tropes are a tricky one. On the one hand, they could get you published and make you famous, but only if you time it right.

While you shouldn’t be writing for the market, you should be writing for you, you will likely still want to keep your ideas original and your readers wanting more.

If nothing else, keeping your ideas original will make the writing and storytelling more exciting for you.

What are your genre’s tropes?

There are certain tropes for specific genres. Vampires is a pretty obvious dark fantasy and YA one, but let’s look at some others.

YA fantasy: A teenager is ‘the chosen one’.
Dark fantasy: Supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves, angels, etc) are all incredibly attractive people who happen to fall in love with your mortal, human protagonist.
Drama: The grumpy old person is changed and made happier by the young child.
Romance: The supposedly unattractive shy girl gets the gorgeous rich man.
Romance: The love triangle. Boy 1 loves her but she loves Boy 2, but Boy 1 is quite sweet really but it turns out Boy 2 also loves her, and oh what is a girl to do?
Crime: The two detectives, or the detective and his/her assistant fall madly in love while investigating.
Crime: The grizzled, cynical, alcoholic detective who lost his badge and is now working as a PI.
Sci-fi: The alien women are so beautiful!
Sci-fi: Zombies. These are another example of a saturated market and of agents and publishers getting bored. So many publications now say no more zombies!
Historic: The smouldering male love interest all the women have to get their fans out for.

How to avoid the tropes

It takes some brain power to avoid tropes in your stories but it can also be fun and will make for a better story and book.

After you’ve figured out what the tropes for your genre are, you may discover that it’s those ideas that you wanted to use in your story.
First of all, a little swear. Damn.

Then, ask yourself some questions:

  • What do you love most about this theme?
    (e.g. it’s shiny vampire that became popular, maybe you prefer the gruesome, terrifying sort.)
  • What haven’t you seen from this theme?
    (e.g. what haven’t I seen from vampires lately?)
  • Are there aspects from your characters that could bring something new to the theme?
    (e.g. your protagonist isn’t a slayer, hunter, teenage girl or damsel in distress. What else could they be?)

Keep asking yourself questions. Brainstorm different ideas, don’t just go with the first one that takes your fancy.

Pretty soon you’ll have a story you’ve fallen in love with that’s completely original.

But then, sometimes you want to stick with the tropes

Remember, while there are rules when it comes to writing fiction, they’re more like guidelines and can be taken with a pinch of salt.

Some tropes are beloved by both writers and readers, and there’s no reason why you can’t use tropes in your stories.
After all, they become popular themes for a reason.

If there’s a trope in your story by it’s one of your favourites and changing the trope makes you sad, then keep it. Write your story. Love it and you’ll find readers who love it too.

At the end of the day, your story is exactly that. Yours. And while the rules of writing should be acknowledged, they absolutely can be ignored if it means writing the story you want to write.

But if you want to be a bit more original and different, consider changing your trope, shifting it, questioning it and moulding it into something new.


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